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Album Review: Angus and Julia Stone – Angus and Julia Stone

 
By on Friday, 1st August 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Australian brother and sister Angus and Julia Stone have reunited in the studio for their third duo album, titled simply ‘Angus and Julia Stone’. The pair had gone their separate ways after touring their previous album, 2011’s ‘Down The Way’, each delivering a solo project the following year. They were brought back together by California producer Rick Rubin, whose magic touch has recently been felt on recordings by Ed Sheeran (‘X’) and Jake Bugg (‘Shangri-La’).

‘Angus and Julia Stone’ is at once more expansive and more cohesive than the siblings’ past records together. The aforementioned ‘Down the Way’ was a large step in this direction, well beyond the purely acoustic folk sound of 2007’s ‘A Book Like This’. Though both previous albums contained California-themed titles, Angus’ songs in particular on ‘Down the Way’ began to explore the warm, mellow West Coast sound, while Julia expanded into thicker and more dramatic instrumentation. Where the two previous albums were studies in contrast between the two Stones — Julia’s raw, taut emotionality and Angus’ laidback, almost sullen drawl — the new self-titled album uses a heavy dose of blues groove to meld their distinct styles into a unified sound.

Rather than strictly alternating lead vocals, the best songs on ‘Angus and Julia Stone’ intertwine the two voices in clever ways. I must admit here that I’ve never particularly cared for Julia Stone’s singing voice; it’s precisely the kind of overaffected little girl whine that usually begins to grate on my nerves after one or two songs. But she sounds remarkably lovely when her voice is layered with Angus’ brooding declamatory style, and the assortment of vocal combinations on this album, varying between straight harmonies and back-and-forth duets, display that feature to its fullest advantage.

The double-tracked vocals throughout opening track ‘A Heartbreak’ make a very definite statement about the collaborative nature of the album as a whole. The song’s first lyrics are an immediate grab for attention: “I met your parents, they were lying about falling in love”, and the rest of the songs continue in that verbally strident vein, softened by the easy blend of the Stones’ voices.

On standout track ‘Heart Beats Slow’, the vocal back and forth is matched up with a bright keyboard melody and lively rhythm over a mellow bass groove. The chorus conjures imagery of the fast-paced L.A. scene in its lyrics, “You say I move so fast that you can hardly see / You say I move so fast, how could you be with me? / But my heart beats slow.” The lovelorn duet ‘Wherever You Are’ and the off-kilter ‘Other Things’ feature the same kind of vocal interchange over a sparser acoustic backdrop.

Individually, each sibling takes the opportunity to stretch his/her own musical style. Angus delves deep into a steamy blues groove on ‘Grizzly Bear’, with Julia doubling on the seductive chorus, “Can I take you home? / We can go anywhere you wanna go.” (Check out a recent live version of ‘Grizzly Bear’ below.) Julia’s impressive lead vocal on ‘Death Defying Acts’ starts out slow, then takes a sultry turn before the song evolves into its hypnotic close.

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The album proper ends with the slow, surly vocals and extended blues guitar riff of ‘Crash and Burn.’ The deluxe version of the album might be worth shelling out a few extra pennies, if only for the rhythmically spellbinding and harmonically intoxicating bonus track ‘Roses’.

The songs on ‘Angus and Julia Stone’ are still recognizable as the intimate folk pop that fans of the sibling pair have always loved, but with a few added layers of musicality. Lyrically, there are moments of poetic brilliance among the pair’s typical repetitive and mesmerizing choruses. Rick Rubin’s subtle production flourishes spike the overall flavor with blues and shimmering psychedelia, which fuses the Stones’ individual styles together and provides a fresh sonic foundation for their songs to grow from.

8.5/10

‘Angus and Julia Stone’ is due for release on the 4th of August on Virgin EMI Records. Angus and Julia Stone are back together on stage as well; you can find their upcoming UK tour dates here.

 

Album Review: Fink – Hard Believer

 
By on Tuesday, 22nd July 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

I was first introduced to Fink by fellow TGTF writer Cheryl, who described their 2011 album ‘Perfect Darkness’ as being “like a smooth whiskey”. We listened to it while getting ready to go out to a gig (I can’t remember now who we were going to see), and it occurred to me very quickly that a more apt comparison has probably never been made. Fink’s lyrics, sung by frontman Fin Greenall, are dark and bittersweet, their potent flavor quickly subdued by the deep, spreading warmth of the rhythmic groove provided by bassist Guy Whittaker and drummer/guitarist Tim Thornton.

Fink were looking to build on the success of ‘Perfect Darkness’ (reviewed by our John here) when they wrote and recorded their fifth LP ‘Hard Believer’. Once again, they decamped to Los Angeles to work with American producer Billy Bush, who also produced ‘Perfect Darkness’, at Sound Factory studios. The band have described ‘Hard Believer’ as their most collaborative effort to date; thus, I’ve chosen to use the name Fink here to refer to the full trio rather than to Greenall himself. (Watch the band’s video commentary ‘The Making of Hard Believer’ below.)

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According to Ninja Tune Records, who have provided support for the album’s release, the phrase “Hard Believer” comes from the vernacular of the American South, where it refers to a person “who is difficult to persuade, who requires proof”. Musically, that Southern drawl is felt immediately in the bluesy guitar riffs and languid vocals of the title track, which you might already have heard in our previous MP3 of the Day feature.

As the album progresses, its tone shifts between artfully coaxing another person and desperately hoping to convince oneself, as in the subtle but edgy ‘2 Days Later’ and the fragile façade of ‘Looking Too Closely’ (featured earlier as a Video of the Moment). ‘Pilgrim’ pairs the provocative lyric “Come a long way / not to ask the question that’s been on your lips all the way” with a palpably anxious and harmonically dissonant rhythmic pulse. The expansive and evolving ‘Shakespeare’ reflects on the fictional tragedy of Romeo and Juliet in the context of a failed romance, building from a sparse and gentle acoustic to a lush, full dynamic over the repeated phrases “Turn the pages / and learn nothing…”

Throughout the album, Fink make effective use of their usual tools: hypnotically repetitive lyrics, spellbindingly sensual rhythms and Greenall’s alluring vocals. While only a few specific moments stand out on ‘Hard Believer’, the record maintains a sense of penetrating emotional warmth and its parting impact is strong, not at all unlike the effect of a rich single malt Scotch late in the evening.

7.5/10

Fink‘s fifth album ‘Hard Believer’ is out now on Fin Greenall’s new label R’COUP’D.

 

Album Review: Longfellow – Prelude

 
By on Monday, 21st July 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Even though they’re still a relatively new band, I’ve written quite a bit on London five-piece Longfellow already. Having sufficiently impressed me on the strength of early single ‘Siamese Lover’, then in person live in Austin and in conversation at SXSW 2014, I think this group have what it takes to make it.

It seems quite strange in my mind that their current release ‘Prelude’ is being hawked around as a mini-album, as if a full album designation isn’t warranted. While it has only eight tracks and some of these have already seen the light of day (singles ‘Siamese Lover’ and ‘Hug-Kiss-Make Up’), these eight tracks are very good, and although it’s only available digitally as of now, a physical release through their label Fierce Panda will follow the first week of August, just 2 weeks from now.

If you’ve been following Longfellow up to now, their music up to this point has aspired to be majestic indie rock and stadium-filling, which has drawn the band comparisons to their label’s earliest success story, Coldplay. So it is with some surprise that in ‘May the Light’ sees the group calling out to Jesus and breaking out the tambourine to go towards folk. (There is also hints of this in later number ‘Wolf Cry’.) However, that doesn’t last (sorry if that’s your thing, but it’s not my bag). Mini-album opener ‘Polaroid’ is more representative, featuring Ali Hetherington’s winning piano and James Thomas’ guitar lines at the start. Frontman Owen Lloyd’s haunting voice provides an effective counterpoint when virtually alone but melding nicely with the instrumentation in the chorus.

Newer track and album standout ‘Lullaby’ continues this trend. Lloyd’s lyrics as sung in the chorus “stitch me, heal me, help me escape my mortality / bathe me, dress me” weigh heavier than normal for pop music, but you can do nothing but simply appreciate words like these: they indicate the reliance we have for another when we’re in a relationship, and the universality of how our very existence is intertwined with another’s. The bridge of this song shows just how effective their songwriting can be, with just Hetherington’s notes on the ivories and Lloyd’s voice.

The imagery of being washed of sin, or at least the effort to be repentant, is repeated in album closer ‘The Convent’, which begins poignantly, with piano and strings. The song invokes further emotion in the chorus: “And I don’t want to be your heartbeat, I tell you all the time; maybe I’ll sleep tonight / And I don’t want to feel your breathing, pretend you’re not alive; maybe I’ll sleep tonight”. There’s certainly conflict in here, between what is right and wrong, between what feels right and what feels wrong. I have my suspicions on what this song is about, but what’s most important is that we are hearing truly heartwrenching thoughts through the voice of this sweeping song.

‘Lullaby’ and ‘The Convent’ seem to be polar opposites in mood to previous single ‘Siamese Lover’, which just begs for pogoing during the chorus. The words “standing on the edge of the world” seems to indicate there is looming danger and anxiety, but the harmonised emphasis of “don’t lose faith” leaves the listener with optimism. ‘Hug – Kiss – Make Up’, their latest single I reviewed before my last trip to England, rings with similar brightness and now that Longfellow have inked an American label deal with Brooklyn indie Ooh La La Records, with the song’s spectacular bombast, it would be my choice for their debut single here stateside.

Older song ‘Gabrielle’ (promo video at the end of this post) has a memorable melody and rhythm, but even more impressively, it manages to have lyrics that seem on the surface entirely callous with regards to the end of love: “I’m tired of life, I’m always losing / And I don’t want to see her, I just want to see her cry”. In fact are proof that the man that’s singing this to us and telling his story is hurting deeply inside. That’s what I want people take away from this (mini)album: too few musicians these days show us their hearts and make it in this business. Music that stirs true feelings within is not only important but vital to all of us. Buy ‘Prelude’ and prove to the industry just how essential music like this truly is.

9/10

‘Prelude’, the first mini-album from London band Longfellow, is out now digitally, with a physical release to follow on the 4th of August on Fierce Panda Records.

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Album Review: Zulu Winter – Stutter

 
By on Wednesday, 16th July 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

I know it’s inevitable in my life as a music editor, but it doesn’t make it any easier to witness the sad break-up of bands I have come to know and love. Last month, London five-piece Zulu Winter announced that they were splitting up. You could practically hear the sound of my heart breaking. I always say things in life happen for a reason, and that includes the people that come into your life too. During my first SXSW in 2012, I met Will, Iain, Dom, Henry and Guy to do an interview with them. After a bewildering week in Austin, meeting such truly nice guys who were jokey and sweet was just what the doctor ordered.

Two months later, I accidentally ran into them on the first day of my first Great Escape while they were unpacking their van in the middle of Brighton. What are the odds of that? Had to be more than a coincidence. Later that night, when I couldn’t get into Brighton Dome, I went to see them play at Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar and they were so appreciative that I’d come to see them. Last year, I was minding my own business, having dinner alone in a pub one night in Brighton when I heard someone calling my name. It was their guitarist Henry Walton, remembering me from the first time we met, then asking me how I was and saying how great it was to see me. It’s little things like this that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

So it feels very cutting personally that they’re calling it quits and even though several of them are starting an entirely different project, it’s heart-wrenching to me that I will never see Zulu Winter again how I remember them. Thankfully, instead of leaving us with just one album to their name (2012′s ‘Language’), the band came together to record one final release. ‘Stutter’, which is being called a mini-album in the press sheets I’ve read, is actually not a mini-album at all but instead a 10-pack of songs.

It starts in a very promising way, with band members’ harmonies and then singer Will Daunt’s voice emphatically rising before the funky beats come in on the driving ‘Trigger’. Later in the album at lucky #7, Daunt’s voice is up to its ‘Language’-era acrobatic sweeps heights in ‘The Drift’, holding its own against the dancey bass beats and the sexy guitar line. As Daunt sings “I’m stuck in the drift / there once was a time / when I felt absolutely free / but I stumble and shake / try to screw it all up and twist it into shape” with the swirling instrumentation, you’re reminded how great this band really are. Or I suppose I should now use the word ‘were’, past tense. Both these songs are attention grabbing, as were standout former singles ‘We Should Be Swimming’ and ‘Silver Tongue’ in their own time. It should be noted that the beats, and neither dreaminess nor pop, are placed in the forefront of most of the songs on ‘Stutter’, which is an interesting development in the band’s sound and possibly a harbinger of why they decided to split?

Some of these tracks are more experimental and less pop than we’re used to in the previous incarnation of Zulu Winter. In the cases of ‘Feel Love’ and ‘Need You Onside’, the former is an attempt at electronic soul, while the latter builds up to a Beatles late ’60s psychedelic trip but sports a title that seems more appropriate for World Cup time. ‘Games’ and ‘The Other Man’ sound like Field Music if they’d just swung more pop. And slightly more conventional. Psychedelic, swirling rock instrumentation wraps itself around Daunt’s falsetto soars on ‘Heavy Rain’, an early taster released in June (promo video below), while ‘Silence is Golden’ is anything but silent, with plenty of wigged out synths and guitars.

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‘Let Sleep Close Your Eyes’, with its buzzing ’70s era synth, is the best example of how the album’s press sheet describes the album: “a very sad ELO”. Perhaps the slower tempo throughout the album suggests a sadness in one’s ears, but I don’t detect sadness in how this was written or recorded, which I take as a good thing, confirmation that these five young men are still friends, even if they are no longer in a band together.

The only sour note here is how the album ends, strangely with ‘Bodies’, which (I hope entirely unintentionally) sounds more like Ellie Goulding‘s ‘Lights’, the bobbing synth notes seeming far too joyful than makes sense for this LP as a whole. Maybe the point was to leave us with something brighter, to indicate the brighter days ahead? All in all though, ‘Stutter’ is an interesting collection of songs that will leave us wondering “what if?” when it comes to Zulu Winter, but also appreciative that they have granted us this final gift. Good luck fellas, I know our paths will cross again sometime soon.

8/10

‘Stutter’, Zulu Winter‘s final album release, is out digitally next Monday (the 21st of July) on Fierce Panda Records.

 

Album Review: Slow Club – Complete Surrender

 
By on Friday, 11th July 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Sheffield neo-folk duo Slow Club are set to release their steamy third album ‘Complete Surrender’ just in time for the heat of the summer. ‘Complete Surrender’ is a deliciously refreshing blend of uptempo pop, emotional balladry and r&b groove. The individual tracks are a study in contrasts, with a mix of radio-friendly dance tunes, bluesy torch songs and introspective acoustic numbers, maintaining variety and momentum through the pleasantly relaxed vibe that permeates the album.

The recent trend of juxtaposing male and female lead vocals is almost always a winner in my book, and ‘Complete Surrender’ is no exception. The real star of the album is Rebecca Taylor’s singing voice. It’s rare in pop music to find a female voice that is both powerful and sensitive to dynamic without being rough or raspy. Taylor maintains a pleasant tone quality on both ends of the dynamic spectrum, and she executes a wide range in terms of pitch and emotional quality. By contrast, Charles Watson’s smooth, even vocal tone plays nicely off of Taylor’s flashy flexibility.

The album’s opening track ‘Tears of Joy’ eases in with a slow jam, which is perhaps an unusual choice on a record containing crisply upbeat tracks like the eponymous ‘Complete Surrender’ (featured as Video of the Moment here). But it’s those exquisite slow burning moments that make this album stand out as something special among the blitz of typical mainstream dance pop.

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The bluesy ‘Suffering You, Suffering Me’ (also featured in a recent Video of the Moment) is a surefire radio hit, with its lush brass instrumentation and Taylor’s sultry vocals. ‘Not Mine to Love’ takes the blues influence even further, featuring wailing guitars and forlorn lyrics about lost love; Taylor’s perfectly executed vocal improvisation in the final chorus is not to be missed. She shows the deeper, softer side of her voice on the theatrical torch song ‘Dependable People and Things That I’m Sure Of’, and country-folk waltz ‘The Queen’s Nose’.

Watson’s lead vocals are featured in a variety of musical contexts as well, including rhythmic groovy track ‘The Pieces’, piano ballad ‘Number One’ and the expansive final track ‘Wanderer Wandering’. But his singing is at its most effective on acoustic folk tune ‘Paraguay and Panama’, where he gently croons through the lilting melody and misty lyrics, “Painted girl upon the wall, covered carefully in Paraguay and Panama, you were the hourglass beauty queen, just flick your hair and move your lips around, in the shape of words that you knew before all of this”.

‘Complete Surrender’ is one of those rare albums that experiments with a variety of musical styles and somehow manages to combine them into a cohesive unit. In this case, Slow Club use their refined lyrical expression and emotional sensitivity, not to mention some brilliant singing, to unify the songs and keep the energy flowing through all 11 tracks. (Insider tip: Don’t miss the sneaky hidden track at the end).

8.5/10

‘Complete Surrender’, the third album from Sheffield’s Slow Club, will be released on Monday (the 14th of July) on Caroline International. It can be streamed at The Guardian, here.

 

Album Review: Example – Live Life Living

 
By on Wednesday, 9th July 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Since the release of his fourth album ‘The Evolution of Man’ in November 2012, Example has gone through some major changes in his life, most noticeably his marriage to Australian model and former ‘Neighbours’ star Erin McNaught. Furthermore, he also signed to his first major record label and carried out a vast array of charity work. Based on these events, it comes as no surprise to see that his latest album ‘Live Life Living’ is very upbeat compared to the dark tones of ‘The Evolution of Man’ and ‘Playing in the Shadows’ (2011), with hard trance, acid house, big beat and EDM featuring heavily throughout.

In numerous interviews, Example (real name Elliot Gleave) expressed that his fifth studio record is homage to ’90s dance music, and it clearly shows. The opening track ‘Next Year’ has a Chemical Brothers-esque synth and Oasis-like vocals, while ‘Take Me As I Am’ contains undertones of The Prodigy. He also listed Faithless (who he supported on their UK tour in 2010) and Underworld as major influences.

The Fulham-born rapper turned singer is renowned for his energetic gigs and it looks like tracks from ‘Live Life Living’ will get concertgoers bouncing once again. Co-produced by Example’s bass player Andy Sheldrake, ‘Only Human’ is the perfect example (pardon the pun) of this. It’s a feel good track that just makes you want to let go; a definite highlight of the album.

The title track ‘Live Life Living’ is dedicated to his wife, whom he married in May 2013. Lines such as “I have always pictured a future so lonely, ‘cos I have always lived in a world that disowned me” demonstrate how Example is now in a better place in comparison to the lows he has previously experienced. Likewise, ‘Can’t Face The World Alone’ and ‘Seen You’ show a softer side to the artist, who has come a long way since his Twitter spats with Cher Lloyd, The Saturdays and Alexandra Burke.

In 2013, Example announced that ‘Live Life Living’ wouldn’t contain any rapping but, due to demands from his fans, he revisited a number of tracks on the album and added eight bars to each. One of these tracks was ‘One More Day (Stay With Me)’, which debuted at #4 in the Official UK Singles Chart. This is another great song to come out of the album and the trademark rap from Example really brings it to life.

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The other singles (‘All The Wrong Places’ and ‘Kids Again’) are also very strong tracks on the album. While neither achieves the same heights as ‘Changed The Way You Kissed Me’ or ‘Stay Awake’, they are a true return to form for Example.

‘Life Life Living’ closes with ‘Longest Goodbye’, which is about Example trying to understand what was going through his friend’s head when he took his own life. It’s a dark track that contains a lot of deep meaning and, while it doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the album’s more upbeat feel, it’s a welcome change and a nice touch.

Overall, Example has experimented with a range of genres in ‘Live Life Living’ and it pays off. The album is full of dance tracks which will get crowds raving and people dancing, plus it brilliantly demonstrates his ability to write choruses that will echo throughout arenas and festivals. This is guaranteed to be one of the dance soundtracks of the summer.

8/10

‘Live Life Living’, Example’s fifth studio album, is out now on Sony Music.

 
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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest tours, gigs, and music we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like idiots.

The blog is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington DC. She is joined by writers in the UK and America. It was started up by Phil Singer in Bristol, UK.

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